Just Published! Competing Principals 2.0? Facebook, Renzi and the 2013 Head of State Election


Competing Principals 2.0? The impact of Facebook in the 2013 selection of the Italian Head of State

Italian Political Science Review / Rivista Italiana di Scienza Politica

Acknowledgments: Alberto Fragapane and Alessandra Cremonesi for their contribution to data collection. Two anonymous leaders of the former right-wing PD minority faction for providing ‘expert’ information on the factional affiliation of PD MPs.

Replication material: 

andreaceron.com/publications OR http://thedata.harvard.edu/dvn/dv/ipsr-risp

What is worth remembering:

  • Facebook pressure did not affect MPs’ propensity to express public dissent over the party line
  • Contrary to the general wisdom, unexperienced MPs selected through primaries did not conform to social media requests
  • Social media were not (yet) a new ‘competing principals’
  • More traditional ‘principals’ played a role: factional membership, seniority, primary
  • ‘Sentimeter’ guys were right
  • It’s not so easy to publish ‘negative’ findings!


Motivated by the literature on ‘competing principals’, this article studies the effect of interactive social networking sites on the behavior of politicians. For this purpose, 12,455 comments posted on the Facebook walls of 423 Italian MPs have been analyzed to assess whether Facebook played a role in the selection of the Italian Head of State in 2013, enhancing responsiveness. The statistical analysis reveals that the pressure exerted through social media did not affect MPs’ propensity to express public dissent over the party line, which is instead affected by more traditional ‘principals’ and factors: seniority, primary elections, and factional membership.